One of the things we Christians have to work hard at is how to assert ourselves without being pushy or rude or arrogant. You see, when Jesus in the Gospel today (Luke 14:7-14) tells us to take the lowest place, he does not mean us simply to grovel. We only have to see how he stands up to people, and yet is also gentle and compassionate, to find a model for our own behaviour. But getting the balance right is the problem isn’t it? I suspect that those of you who have a gentle disposition probably need to be more assertive, whilst those like me who tend to be too pushy and bouncy need to learn more restraint!
What will help us become more Christ-like is actually told to us in our 2nd Reading (Hebrews 12:18-24) which says that we are all first born sons of God and citizens of heaven. Women as well as men, of course! In the ancient world both these titles are very significant. If we were children of a high class family, especially if we were the first born, then we were really special, and everyone else bowed down to us. We did not have to do anything, we were just important. Today, in Britain, we live in a society where it is possible for people to become important simply by working hard at school and University and showing their talent. But that was not the case back then. No wonder so many ordinary people turned to Christianity then, and why so many poor people throughout the world do the same today.
I was reading the latest Aid to the Church in Need Newsletter where it speaks about the support needed for the hill peoples living in the mountainous frontier region between Burma and Thailand. It reads :- “The people ..are often not registered as citizens. As far as the authorities are concerned they do not exist, and as stateless persons they receive no state aid of any kind.” And here comes the significant bit. “They embraced the Catholic faith because the Church makes them feel respected, makes them feel that they are human beings with God-give dignity.”
One of the reasons why Mass is so important is that it reminds us all week by week of this really important truth – that we are citizens of heaven. Perhaps we get so used to saying or singing Glory to God in the highest and later Holy Holy Holy, Lord God of hosts that we forget that these are the songs of the angels, the songs of those who are in heaven with God. Earlier in the Letter to the Hebrews the writer has explained why in Psalm 8 it sounds as if we are lower than the angels. He explains that this refers to Jesus who is indeed made “lower than the angels”, so that when he rises from the dead and is reunited with God the Father in heaven he draws all of us with him into a glory that is higher than the angels
So at every Mass, we do not praise the angels, but recognise that they, with all the saints who have gone before us, are supporting us and surrounding us with glory. So at every Mass, as the writer says, we have come to the place “where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival…. in which (and here are those words again) everyone is a first born son and a citizen of heaven.”
This then is the calling of every Christian. Whatever we are like, whatever kind of personality we have, whatever background we come from, we are all called through Jesus into a glory in which all of us are important and special. This is a world in which there are no higher seats or lower seats but a throne for every one of us. For, as St Peter says (1 Peter 2:9) we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood”. That is why we are anointed when we are baptised and then again when we are confirmed. It is the oil that was used to anoint kings and queens, and it declares that we are all royal, all special.
So there is no need for any of us to be pushy or arrogant. We can assert ourselves yes, but we can do so with an inner confidence, an inner humility, because we are in the hands of God. This makes all the difference when we confess our sins and failings. When I, or any priest, tells you that you are a sinner, we do not need to pretend to ourselves or to God that we are better than we are, nor, more importantly, do we need to grovel or feel guilty. To be a sinner is good news. Yes, I am a sinner that God loves. It is as a sinner that God through Jesus draws me into his glory.
Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was dead, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.